‘Uber spawned Neelie Kroes with expensive dinners for illegal lobbying in the Netherlands’ | Interior

The top of Uber did everything they could to appease Neelie Kroes for illegal lobbying. The former European Commissioner held secret talks in expensive hotels at the expense of the taxi company, while Kroes was officially forbidden by Brussels. The former Uber management assistant reveals this in an interview with NRC.

Between 2014 and 2017, Ligea Wells arranged everything as a management assistant at Uber’s head office in Amsterdam. She is currently involved in a lawsuit with the taxi company. In it she demands 120,000 euros for unpaid overtime during that period. She lost the case, but has appealed.

Thousands of published documents previously showed that Kroes arranged a conversation between Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Prime Minister Mark Rutte in 2015 despite a lobbying ban. On the advice of the top official in The Hague, this had to take place in the greatest secrecy due to ongoing lawsuits against Uber.

Wells now reveals in the interview with NRC how the Uber top arranged secret meetings with Neelie Kroes and managed to win her over. Kroes was introduced by Mark MacGann, Uber’s top lobbyist in Europe.

Out of nowhere

“Neelie Kroes came into the picture in 2015 out of nowhere,” says Wells. “Mark said to me, ‘I want to introduce you to someone, but promise me you’ll be discreet. From now on you will have a lot of contact with her assistant’. He then called: we are coming, can you reserve a meeting room at Uber for us? I also arranged places where Kroes could discreetly consult with the Uber top.”

Kroes not only came to the meeting room at the Uber headquarters, but was also invited to restaurants of expensive hotels in Amsterdam, such as the Sir Albert Hotel, the Waldorf, the Okura, at Uber’s expense. “You get less attention there. We prepared the talking point for her appointments with politicians before, where she stood up for Uber. Of course she had her own input, but we knew that the points we had come up with would always be discussed.”

Uber drivers at headquarters during a protest. In various countries, drivers are campaigning against what they consider to be unfair treatment by the taxi company. © ANP / ANP

For example, Uber cleverly responded to themes that were close to Kroes’ heart. For example, Uber would be good for the environment, for people who want to work part-time, for global technology and for Europe. Wells: “Uber is, the message was, as reliable as running water.”

No permission

Kroes had just finished as European Commissioner at that time. Between 2004 and 2014, she was responsible for Competition and the Digital Agenda for two periods in that position. After that period, Kroes asked permission in Brussels to work for Uber. This was also rejected by the then President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. European Commissioners are not allowed to lobby for ‘matters that belonged to their portfolio’ for the first year and a half after their departure.

According to Wells, Kroes felt no embarrassment. “I come from the south of Italy, from the province of Naples. In my whole life I have experienced that it works that way. Everything goes through the back door. So I’ve always mistaken Neelie Kroes for amusing. Everyone in the Netherlands can judge: we are so much better than Southern Europe, we have it under control here. But in fact this is just corruption, at the highest level. And it’s legal here.”

Kroes says in a response by e-mail that he ‘completely distances himself’ from Wells’ statements. “The presumptuous insinuations made by the person you interviewed are completely false and defamatory. In my opinion, this kind of activity fits better with the tabloid press than with a self-respecting newspaper like it NRC.”